Deception’s Second Cousin:Participant Observation
IRB Continuing EducationTuesday May 12, 2015Oregon State University
Definition(s)MethodologyApplicationsOpportunities & BenefitsLimitationsReview ConsiderationsDiscussion
Inparticipant observation the observer participates in ongoing activities and records observations. Participant observation extends beyond naturalistic observation because the observer is a "player" in the action.Varying degrees of participationWide perspectives of the nature of an investigator’s immersion
Marshall &Rossman(1989)“Thesystematic description of events, behaviors, and artifacts in the social setting chosen for study" (p.79).Observationsenable the researcher to describe existing situations using the five senses, providing a "written photograph" of the situation understudyA processenabling researchers to learn about the activities of the people under study in the natural setting through observing and participating in those activities.“Theprocess of learning through exposure to or involvement in the day-to-day or routine activities of participants in the researchersetting”
Bernard (1994)Requires a certain amount of deception and impression management.Requires establishing rapport within a community and learning to act in such a way as to blend into the community so that its members will act naturally, then removing oneself from the setting or community to immerse oneself in the data to understand what is going on and be able to write about it.
FINE (2003)“Peopled ethnography" as an extensive methodology based on observation in the field, a labor-intensive activity that sometimes lasts for years.One is expected to become a part of the group being studied to the extent that the members themselves include the observer in the activity and turn to the observer for information about how the group is operating.
Hallmark method for Anthropology and SociologyIncreasing application in EducationOften one of multiple techniques in Ethnographic research
Theresearcher assumes a role in the setting or group being studied.Oftenthe researcher actually takes on the role being studied;BecomingafirefighterEnrollingin flight trainingschoolWorkingin a mental hospital (or passing as apatient)Beinga cocktailwaitressLivingamong the mushroom hunters of thenorthwestMay or may not employ covertobservationUseof concealed devices to record information for lateranalysistaperecordingconversationsvideotapingpersonalinteractionsConcealmentof the researcherasthe behavior of subjects is observed and recorded.
Participant Observation [Qualitative]The data ofparticipant observation are extensive field notes describing events and impressions. They may also include extensive in-depth interviews.Narrative description of a qualitative sort provides depth and richnessofunderstanding.Systematic Observation [Quantitative]Quantitative Systematic observation uses clearly-defined categories (often with operational definitions) and collects quantitative (numerical) data.Systematically-acquired data - clearly-designated decision rules, operational definitions, and proper sampling procedures – permits* generalization to similar situations.
Schensul,Schensul,andLeCompte(1999):toidentify and guide relationships with informants;to help the researcher get the feel for how things are organized and prioritized, how people interrelate, and what are the cultural parameters;to show the researcher what the cultural members deem to be important in manners, leadership, politics, social interaction, and taboos;to help the researcher become known to the cultural members, thereby easing facilitation of the research process; andto provide the researcher with a source of questions to be addressed with participants (p.91). 
Bernard(1994):Itmakes it possible to collect different types of data. Being on site over a period of time familiarizes the researcher to the community, thereby facilitating involvement in sensitive activities to which he/she generally would not be invited.It reduces the incidence of "reactivity" or people acting in a certain way when they are aware of being observed.It helps the researcher to develop questions that make sense in the native language or are culturally relevant.It gives the researcher a better understanding of what is happening in the culture and lends credence to one's interpretations of the observation. Participant observation also enables the researcher to collect both quantitative and qualitative data through surveys and interviews.It is sometimes the only way to collect the right data for one's study (pp.142-3). 
The researcher is able to get an "insider" viewpoint and the information may be much more rich than that obtained through systematic observation.Provides researcherswith waysto:checkfor nonverbal expression offeelingsdeterminewho interacts withwhomgrasphow participants communicate with eachothercheckfor how much time is spent on various activitiesAllowsresearchersto:checkdefinitions of terms that participants use in interviews,observeevents that informants may be unable or unwilling to share when doing so would be impolitic, impolite, or insensitive, andobservesituations informants have described in interviews, thereby making them aware of distortions or inaccuracies in description provided by those informants
Developa holistic understanding of the phenomena under study that is as objective and accurate as possible given the limitations of themethodCan beused as a way to increase thevalidity of astudy, as observations may help the researcher have a better understanding of the context and phenomenon under study.Validityis stronger with the use of additional strategies used with observation, such as interviewing, document analysis, or surveys, questionnaires, or other more quantitative methods.Can beused to help answer descriptive research questions, to build theory, or to generate or testhypotheses.May improvethe quality of data collection and interpretation and facilitates the development of new research questions or hypotheses
Numerous Conversations on limitations of the method and error in systematicresearchBiasReactivityRepresentation*But not the focus of today’s discussion …
Most observational research, except that involving children and minors, is exempt from federal regulations.Forstudies involving adults, current regulations require IRB review only for the most risky observationalinvestigationsThosein which two conditions exist:(1) the observations are recorded in a manner that allows the subjects to be identified, directly or through identifiers linked to them; and(2) the observations recorded, if they became known outside the research, could reasonably place the subject either at risk of criminal or civil liability or cause damage to the subject's financial standing, employability, or reputation [FederalPolicy §___.101(b)(2)].A major concern of the IRBshould be to determine if it is necessary to record information in a way that entails such risk, and, if so, whether the provisions for maintaining confidentiality of the data are adequate.
To what extent is thebehavior in question ispublic?Covertobservation of public behavior (e.g., observing pedestrians on the street) raises little if any concern about privacy;Concealedobservation of people in their homes would be quite another matter.Somebehavior that occurs in public places may not really be publicbehavior, wherethe individuals involved have a reasonable expectation of privacy.Researchinvolving covert recording of conversations in public parks or filming of activities in public rest rooms clearly raises invasion of privacy questions.Observationalstudies in quasi-public places (e.g., hospital emergency rooms or state mental hospital wards) may also raise such concerns.
Will the researcher take fieldnotes publicly to reinforce that what the researcher is doing is collecting data for researchpurposes?Whenthe researcher meets community members for the first time,will they besure to informparticipants ofthe purpose for being there, sharing sufficient information with them about the research topic that their questions about the research and the researcher's presence there are put to rest.This may require thatone is constantly introducing oneself as a researcher.
Is there any risk if a participant is never made aware that they have been covertly observed?If they are notaware of an invasion ofprivacy, is there any risk of feelingembarrassed, guilty, or that their rights have beenviolated?Can it beargued that an invasion of privacy is wrong, whether or not the subjects are ever aware ofit?
Institutional Review BoardGuidebookhttp://www.hhs.gov/ohrp/archive/irb/irb_chapter3.htm#e4UC Davis - IRBhttp://psychology.ucdavis.edu/faculty_sites/sommerb/sommerdemo/observation/partic.htmForu: Qualitative Social Researchhttp://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/466/996